Henri IV’s Legacy in Paris

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Henri IV’s Legacy in Paris
The world will be reminded of Henri IV this summer when, during the opening ceremony for the Olympics, TV cameras will follow the athletes down the Seine and under the Pont Neuf. The statue of France’s first Bourbon king, who reigned from 1589 to 1610, sits astride his horse on the beautiful bridge which he commissioned, and gazes downriver in the city where he had to fight hard to gain acceptance, but where he eventually became France’s best-loved monarch. So, who was he and where can you “find” him in Paris today?  View of the Pont-Neuf bridge in Paris. Photo credit: Sumit Surai/ Wikimedia Commons When Henri was born in 1553, no one thought he would ever be king of France. Catherine de Medici, wife of Henri II, had already borne three sons and a fourth would follow. Indeed, although one died, the other three went on to reign, while Henri’s destiny was to become king of Navarre, which he did in 1572. This was also the year of his wedding to Marguerite, daughter of the deceased Henri II. It was a political match, an attempt to ease religious unrest by admitting a Protestant into royal circles, deemed safe enough at a time when the Catholic succession looked secure, through Charles IX, his younger brother Henri and – it was hoped – their future heirs. But the wedding was disastrous, unleashing such terrible bloodshed that it became known as “the scarlet nuptials.”    Portrait of Catherine de Medici and her children. Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill Collection, Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University/Wikimedia Commons Many Protestants had gathered in Paris for the ceremony at Notre Dame on August 18th, 1572 and the week of celebratory balls and suppers which followed. But on August 25th, in what became known as the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, an estimated 3,000 Protestants were brutally slaughtered. It began in the Louvre Palace, where the bridegroom Henri and his Protestant nobles were staying. Desmond Seward, Henri’s biographer, writes: “The Louvre’s chambers, withdrawing rooms and antechambers all dripped with blood and were littered with dead or dying Protestant lords.” Henri was spared, being a “Prince of the Blood,” but a mob outside spread violence through the city and many more were murdered.  Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. Painting by François Dubois, a Huguenot painter who fled France after the massacre. Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts/ Wikimedia Commons
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Lead photo credit : Henri IV, King of France. Royal Collection/Wikimedia Commons

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Recently retired from teaching Modern Languages (French and German), Marian now has time to develop her interests in travel and European culture and history. She will be in Paris as often as she can, visiting places old and new, finding out their stories and writing it all up as soon as she gets home. Marian also runs the weekly podcast series, City Breaks, offering in-depth coverage of popular city break destinations, with lots of background history and cultural information. She has covered Paris in 22 episodes but looks forward to updating the series every now and then with some Paris Extra episodes.